Meg Harrell: Blogging and Tiny Living on Night Shift

Meg Harrell, 32, is a CDICU nurse and the lifestyle blogger behind MegForIt. She lives in a tiny house with her family of four in North Carolina. Here, she shares her preferred work schedule, her tricks to fall asleep after a busy shift, and why screen time can be the enemy of daytime sleep.

–– As told to Lauren McGill. Edited for clarity and conciseness.

What do you do for work?

I am a RN and I’ve worked from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. in CDICU (Cardiovascular ICU) for the past three years. I also tutor nursing students online and write e-books and resources to help new nurses and nursing students.

Tell me about your schedule.

I try not to do night shifts in a row, so I divided my schedule so it would be one weekend shift, one Tuesday shift, and one Thursday or Friday shift. Depending on my husband’s schedule, if I don’t get to sleep too much, it’s just not healthy to drive to work with no sleep for nights in a row.

Was your management accommodating about your preferred schedule?

Management was great and super nice about it. We had a big influx of new nurses and so we were well-staffed with a lot of the new people trying to pick up shifts. Also, I told my manager that if I got nights in a row, I might not sleep at all, so I needed my schedule broken up or I would not be a safe nurse.

I think that if night shift works for you, you should stick with it. 

Why did you make the switch to night shifts?

The main reason was my kids (ages 4 & 6). Childcare was difficult. It was nice when we were living with family and I could just drop them off at my mom’s or drop them off at my in-laws. But then once you don’t have that, it’s hard with younger kids. I would trust a sitter if my kids were a little bit older, but when my kids were little babies and they couldn’t go to school yet, it’s hard and it was also expensive. 

How do you coordinate childcare with your husband?

Usually, I will go pick up my husband when he’s done work and then we’ll do the switch-off with the kids. He’ll take the kids, drop me off at work and then I’ll work all night. He’ll put the kids to bed, sleep all night, and then he’ll come and get me in the morning and we’ll switch off the kids again.

Sometimes I will drop him off at work in the morning and I’ll have the kids. Other times he can come home and watch the kids for a couple of hours while I sleep, or he comes home early and I sleep a couple of hours before the shift. While I’m sleeping, my husband will take my kids to the library, the pool, or the playground. 

Besides working as an RN, what else do you have going on? 

I run the lifestyle blog Meg For It. I am also a travel writer, so I get hired by brands, resorts, and companies that want me to travel to places and write about what is happening there. Next weekend, I am flying to Disney! They have something coming out over there and I get to bring my kids, which is great.

Tell me about your living arrangements. 

I live in a tiny house that is 360 sq ft. with my two kids and husband in a tiny house community in the Smoky Mountains. Our bed raises up to the ceiling, so when it’s on the ceiling I have a living area, and when we bring it down we have a bedroom.

How do you sleep during the day in a shared tiny house?

I close all the blackout curtains and do a bit of meditation and some special deep breathing techniques to come down a little bit. I feel like when I’m at work, my adrenaline is running and I can’t just switch it off. I have to bring myself down a couple of levels to finally be able to relax and fall asleep.

Any advice for shift workers transitioning over to tiny house living?

Be vocal about your needs to your partner – if you need them to be quiet, or you just don’t want to be touched. Blackout curtains are also a must because sunlight messes with your sleep. And depending on noise levels, use ear plugs. Good quality ones are worth investing in because they’ll help you go into those deeper levels of sleep.

Be vocal about your needs to your partner – if you need them to be quiet, or you just don’t want to be touched.

What are some of the pitfalls with working nights?

I think you have to be very particular with how you schedule yourself. You have to value sleep. If you have an opportunity to sleep, don’t give it up to watch a movie. Sometimes you have to cancel your plans, because sleep is so important. As life evolves, you have to find a way to value sleep and value time. Don’t waste it!

Also, you cannot waste time on social media. If you want a good sleep pattern, you have to schedule your screentime. You can’t be scrolling through Instagram when you’re about to fall asleep because you won’t be able to just transition.

You have to value sleep. If you have an opportunity to sleep, don’t give it up to watch a movie.

Any final thoughts about working nights?

Night shift is not easier. A lot of people think, ‘Oh, everyone is sleeping.” No! Everyone is not sleeping. Healthcare is an industry that never sleeps so don’t think that night shift is going to be easier if you’re thinking of getting into it. 

And if you’re thinking of leaving night shift, remember that day shift can be challenging with more people coming at you, like management and more doctors, etc. There are always pros and cons. I think that if night shift works for you, you should stick with it. 

Thank you, Meg, for sharing your adventurous approach to life with us! Be sure to follow Meg’s fun-filled IG @meg.for.it and grab a copy of her super helpful Nursing Resource e-book here >>>> https://www.megforit.com/downloads/complete-rn-resource-ebook/.

9 Benefits of Working the Night Shift

In almost every industry there are people that work all night long to keep the wheels of our modern world turning. Night shift workers work hard so others can snooze peacefully at night by keeping them safe (first responders, doctors, nurses, construction workers), keeping them fed (farmers, truckers), and keeping the economy moving (manufacturing, technical support, customer service).

If you’ve tried out working the night shift, then you know that it doesn’t take too much time to figure out some of the downsides of a graveyard schedule. You might even be wondering if working nights is actually a good decision. But did you know that there are actually some perks to working the night shift? Some employees intentionally choose to work the night shift because they may find that the benefits actually outweigh the risks and downsides of working nights.

1. Shorter commute

Chances are that you’ll be heading to work while everyone is on their way home and then reversing the process in the morning. This translates into a lot less traffic and much shorter commute time.  And if you take public transportation, then the majority of the crowd will be going in the opposite direction to you. This is a great perk for night shift workers in larger cities where commuting time can eat up a lot of their day.  

2. Less competition

There are definitely fewer people who are willing to work overnight shifts. This might mean that your odds of getting a promotion in your current position is greater. Working the night shift for even just a few years may allow you to climb the corporate ladder faster. In the meantime, you also may have access to more shifts or more overtime shifts, resulting in a bigger paycheque.

3. Better pay

Most companies pay a premium to their employees for working the night shift. Where I work, the premium is minimal and would not be enough of an incentive alone to work nights, but I do notice a difference at the end of the month on my paycheck when I’ve worked a string of night shifts. It’s definitely worth finding out if your potential employer offers a nighttime premium, also called a night differential rate. (Pssssst… some employers also pay a weekend premium, so if you can snag night shift on weekends then you may get a double dose of bonus pay.)

4. Fewer disruptions

One of the most appealing things for many workers regarding the night shift is the fact that the workplace is often quieter than normal. This makes it easier to focus because there are fewer disruptions and interruptions- both surefire productivity killers. Of course, there’s usually still some chit chat and banter, but you’ll likely find that generally more people are focused on their own tasks. This means you may actually power through your workload quicker and have leftover time to putter away on a project of your own.

5. Fewer meetings

Ahhhh, who loves being trapped in a never-ending meeting? Not me! Almost every company holds all of its meetings during the day. Working the night shift saves you time that you would otherwise spend in mandatory meetings. If you’re really interested in what happened during a meeting,  just asked for the meeting minutes or a brief synopsis. 

6. Less drama

Most night shift workers will tell you that there is less bureaucracy at night. Most bosses and upper management aren’t working the night shift. Generally speaking, the night shift has fewer employees working, meaning fewer kerfluffles and draining drama. In fact, I’ve met several nurses over the years who intentionally work exclusively overnight shifts and have for decades. When I ask them why choose a schedule that many others would reject, they tell me that they just can’t stand the drama of daytime politics.

7. Alternative availability

Some workers intentionally choose to work all night so that they can be home during the day for various reasons. Some parents work all night, then sleep while their munchkins are at school and are awake in time for after-school pick-up. And running errands is so much less stressful when you are working on the opposite schedule of most of the population… you can shop at a time when the aisles are empty and the parking lots have plenty of spots available.  

8. Slower pace

Night shift in most industries has an entirely different pace with a more relaxed environment and teamwork approach. This means a less harried pace, allowing the satisfaction of a job well done rather than a rush job. Some night shift teams actually consider themselves the “clean-up crew” because they have the time to slow down and do things methodically. From re-stocking to deep cleaning to tackling those niggly tasks that no one on day shift seems to have time for… night shift often has the time and flexibility to get them done.

9. More time for learning

Because nighttime shifts often have a different pace, there’s often more time for ongoing education. I’ve observed that the senior nurses in my department have a lot more time for hands-on demonstrations and to field questions from junior nurses during the night shift.

I’ve personally experienced the value of putting slower nights to good use. I was able to complete an entire college course certificate program while working overnights as a switchboard operator. Not only did I get paid to be there, but I walked away from that job with the education to get a career upgrade.

Some people even manage to work the night shift and attend daytime classes in order to complete a college or university course. Of course, you don’t want to sacrifice your health but it may be possible to accomplish both with careful scheduling.

After looking at the benefits of working the night shift, would you consider it? Are any of these advantages big enough to make you leave those daytime banking hours and join the secret underground world of night shift workers?

9 Benefits of Working the Night Shift

How to Keep your Bedroom Dark

Absolute darkness is essential to deep sleep, whether it’s daytime or nighttime. Your brain can detect even tiny amounts of light through closed eyelids, which can disturb your sleep cycles. The goal is to make your sleep room pitch-dark.

If you share your bedroom with a nighttime sleeper, they too will appreciate your efforts to make your bedroom completely dark. Some street lamps now use energy-efficient LEDs, which emit light in the blue part of the spectrum, which is considered the most sleep-sabotaging kind of all. So blocking out all outside light – during both the day and night – can result in better sleep for everyone.

Use blackout blinds and curtains

Use a combination of blackout shades and opaque curtains to block all light from outside. The best way to make the room absolutely dark is by installing an inside-mounted blackout blind/shade inside the window frame. Then hang outside-mounted blackout curtains on a curtain rod that extends several inches outside the window frame on both sides. The point of doubling up is to ensure total darkness. Even high-end blackout products may allow a tiny bit of light to creep in the sides. A combination of a shade and curtains provides the maximum effect.


How to choose a blind

Cellular shades are the best for blocking out the light. Blinds allow can allow a small amount of light to seep in between the horizontal slats. Roller blinds often eventually curl up and become less effective. Choose the cordless cellular shades, as there’s no chance then of the cord malfunctioning.

Start by measuring the inside dimensions of your window frame. The width of the shade should be slightly narrower than the widow of your window frame- about ¼ to ½ inch. The length of the shade should be long enough to reach the very bottom of your window. If it’s a bit longer, no worries.

How to choose curtains

You definitely want to choose the ones specifically marked as “blackout” and not just “light filtering” or “room darkening.” We’re going for NASA level technology here. The curtains should be long but shouldn’t pool on the floor– you can hem them with hemming tape or bring them to a tailor. Use enough curtain panels… if you think you need one on each side, consider doubling that so you get good thickness and they fully cover every possible inch.

How to choose a curtain rod

You don’t want any light seeping out on either side of the window. There are two options:

  1. Buy a wraparound rod that curves at the ends so that the curtains can be drawn all the way back to the wall.
  2. Buy a curtain rod that is at least a foot wider than your window frame. Then draw curtains fully across the windows all the way to the edge of the curtain rod for full coverage.

Go analog

Swap your digital alarm clock for an analogue one. (Stuck on having a digital clock? Switch to red. Digital clocks with red numbers are considered less disruptive than ones with white or blue digits. Just turn it so it is facing away from you.)

Unplug/cover up electronics

Unplug whatever you can. Use small dots of black electrical tape to cover up any lights on electronics.

Use a “snake” at the door

Block out any light spilling in underneath door frames by placing a snake across the bottom of your doorframe. They are like long, skinny bean bags filled with rice and were often used in old homes to block out drafts. A snake will block out light and muffle outside noises that might sneak in.

Eye mask

Here’s the easiest peasiest solution of them all: Buy a sleep mask that fits your face perfectly.

Night Shift Wellness How to Keep your Bedroom Dark

 

How to Have a Social Life on Night Shift

Shift workers often grapple with how to have a social life when working the graveyard shift. If you miss out on too many events in a row, it can take a toll on your happiness and add stress to your relationships. Night shift workers can experience bouts of feeling ‘out of the loop’ or isolated from family and friends. I spoke with some night shift workers who have managed to balance out they’re shifty schedule with getting enough social time. Here are their best suggestions.

Communicate

Help your friends and family understand you’re on a different schedule. Explain that 2 p.m. in the afternoon for them is like 2 a.m. in the morning for you. Suggest times to get together that work with your work/sleep schedule. Try: “Let’s meet up for a bite before I head in Friday night” or “How about breakfast on Sunday morning after I finish my shift?” You might find that you have to work harder to maintain relationships with loved ones who have conflicting schedules, but it’s worth it to keep those connections alive!

Use tech to meet up

In order to meet up with good friends who work traditional hours, use scheduling apps to help you find overlapping time between your schedule and theirs. This helps take the guesswork out of your availability so you can focus on planning what you’ll do for fun instead of when you can find a few hours when you are both awake/available.

Be prepared

Be ready to socialize by using your time off when others aren’t free to take care of errands and chores. Take care of meal prep, grocery shopping, dry cleaning pickup or swimming class registration during your downtime while your friends are working. Then you’ll be ready to meet up and party on once they’re off work.

Embrace breakfast dates

Breakfast is a great time to catch up because it works with almost anybody’s schedule. You’re quitting night shift at 7 am and your friend starts her workday at 9 am? Grab some sunny side up eggs together at 7:30 am! You both need to eat breakfast anyways. It can be a great time of day to touch base with your folks, catch up with a friend, or even go on a date. Breakfast for the win!

Save up your vacation time

Save up as much vacation time as you can to use for holidays or special events with your favourite peeps. Obviously, this will depend on approval from your boss and whether others have first dibs on that time off. But your odds increase if you ask for time off as soon as possible so you can make it to weddings, rock concerts, pie eating contests, or whatever events are important to you.

Find others with similar schedules

To keep your social circle full, seek out new friends with similar working hours. Look to meet people in the same industry or in other industries with unusual working hours –  restaurants, hotels, first responders, hospital staff, security guards, etc. They might have a similar schedule to you and even if not, they’ll certainly understand the challenges of having a job with unusual hours. Chances are that they’ll be game for pre-work gym sessions, post-work breakfast meet-ups, or Netflix binges on turnaround days. etc.

Keep it short and sweet

If your family or friends are having a party that you want to attend, make sure to sleep the entire time before it begins. Have your lunch packed, your clothes ready and your work bag ready to go so you can rest as much as possible before stopping in for some socialization before heading off to work. In my experience, I can often attend events– but just the beginning. I stop in, say hello, grab some food, and then sail off to work. I usually make it clear when I accept an invite that I’ll need to dine-and-dash in order to get to work, but most hosts would prefer you come for a short time than not come at all.

Use e-mail

The beauty of e-mail is that you can write a bit whenever you have time, add to it later, and send it any time of day without waking anyone up. Personally, I use e-mail to stay in touch with my best friend in another city and my aunt in another country. It would be almost impossible to find frequent times to call or visit them with our mutually hectic schedules, but I can easily stay in touch pen-pal style. I often have quiet periods on the night shift, so I’ll type up an e-mail at 4 am to bring them up-to-date. They write back when they have time. We swap recipes, send photos and share stories. It’s a small thing that keeps us close despite conflicting schedules.

How do you keep your social life alive while working nights? Any tips or tricks you can share?

Night Shift Wellness How to Have a Social Life on Night Shift